LIFESTYLES IN NEW YORK
By Ronald Silver
Gates as Big Brother
gave him, Mr. Gates, my hard-earned money. I did my part to make
him the richest man in the world.'
What will it really
look like when Big Brother takes over your life? All I can tell you
is what it was like for me coming to the realization Big Brother is
here, and hes a pretty nice guy. As citizen, steering ones way
down the path of day-to-day life with integrity, honesty, compassion,
and bravery there are many opportunities to stray. If you stay on the
path, or stray relatively close, you have no need to know what big brother
looks like. You are a model citizen who never jaywalks, never files
for a tax extension, and never seeks out bootleg copies of expensive
software. In 1996, Windows 95 was being discussed a lot by anyone concerned
with computer operating systems, all of them operating on the out-dated
version of Windows, anxious for 95 to hit shelves. It was already a
year late, and I was planning to buy it as soon as it came out. But
I didnt want to wait.
Fortunately I know big names in high places. I called my friend Adam
Smith who worked for Intuit, who owns Quicken. That company was going
through a soon-to-be-doomed merger attempt with Microsoft. Each company
exchanged software so they could program new versions of their softwares
to work together. Adam Smith was a senior something-or-other over there.
"Adam, can you get me a copy of the beta version of Windows 95?"
"No problem. Can you Fed-ex me a bud?"
I have always had the willingness to bend the rules. I stole a candy
bar when I was six, was caught red-handed, and I lied to my mother until
the bitter end when I had to go back into the drug store and tell the
pharmacist that I stole from him. He looked at the packet of candy,
crumpled from being in my guarded pocket, got down in my face with his
clean shave and looked me right in the eye. He saw no fear.
When I received the bootleg copy of Windows 95 I tore open the package
like it was Christmas. Seventeen or twenty floppy disks covered with
Intuit post-its, all numbered with a quickly wielded Sharpie. Installing
was going to be a long process. I gingerly grabbed disk #1, installation
disk. Easy. I plugged it in to the A drive ready to type the command
to install. An error message came up. Ouch.
I tried calling Adam, but he wasnt around. I figured it must have
been compressed, so I tried using the decompression software. Nada.
I tried flipping the black-plastic tabs on the disk from lock to unlock
and back. Boopkas. Then I began to rationalize calling tech support.
Anyway, how much had I spent with Microsoft over the years? Thousands?
It must be more than that. Lets realistically call it twenty thousand
dollars. I convinced myself that the company could help me out once
just to install a bootleg copy of software I was going to buy as soon
as I could. In fact, they owed me a solid.
The call was placed to Microsoft Technical Support at about two forty-four
in the afternoon, I could tell you the date, but it was about two weeks
before they released the software to the public. A very friendly, silky
Seattle voice answered the phone: "Microsoft Technical Support.
This is Miranda, may I help you?"
"Yes," I said, "may I have the Windows 95 Beta Version
hotline?" I obviously knew what I was talking about.
"Yes sir, just one moment," she said in a way that made me
feel good about holding on. I was contemplating the twenty-five dollar
an hour fee they would probably charge me for extra-special technical
support, figuring this would take no more than five minutes. I was fine
with that. As I sat on hold the line went dead, I was cut off. I put
my feet up on my desk, readying myself for a frustrating tech support
experience, reminding myself of the great reward at the end, having
Windows 95 installed on my computer, making it better, stronger and
faster. I hit the redial button on the phone.
It rang once. "Microsoft Security," a very stern voice answered.
"Oh, pardon me," I said, "I was on hold with the Windows
95 Beta Hotline." I was official as I could be, speaking with authority
like I was Adam Smith himself.
"Who is this and where did you get your copy of Windows 95?"
the voice asked, out-authorizing me in an instant. I knew he had a badge
and a hat. I trembled and slammed down the phone. Then I picked up the
phone, ready to hit the redial. Seattle is a long way away; how much
harm can they do to me here in New York City? I asked myself in confidence.
When I picked up, the phone-line was dead. I couldnt believe it.
I felt afraid. I walked out on my fire escape and smoked a joint. I
thought a lot. I remembered the time I was caught stealing nuts when
I was ten. An old lady called out, "There he goes," and there
I went. I outran three teenagers in full-length green aprons, but when
I rounded the corner I imagined the neighborhood surrounded with cops
so I walked back and turned myself in. Im not a good criminal.
I waited ten minutes and picked up the phone again.
As soon as the receiver was at my ear there was loud digital sound,
like a fax machine, and I imagined that Microsoft Security was extracting
all of my information: my bad habits, my DNA structure, my credit report,
my juvenile court records, my driving records, my dental records, my
divorce papers and my topless bar report. I hung up the phone. When
I picked it up a few minutes later I had a live line out. I was done
calling Microsoft for help.
Needless to say, I ran out to purchase Windows 95 as soon as it hit
the shelves. No need to fight the fact that I had lost that battle to
an enemy too big to see, to powerful to fight. Heres my
money. Mr. Gates. Take it. Its like a tax that us smaller people
pay up to stay up with the technological Joneses. I want to keep up.
I dont want any trouble. Please take my money. I came home
to install my new precious software. Two hundred and fifty dollars wasnt
going to change my life, and with my new improved operating system,
I would save time and money, somehow. I would have the dream-life, somehow.
I was satisfied with my participation in the world of technology and
in our bursting economy.
Before I ran up the five flights to my apartment for the installation,
which would be a lot easier and faster since I bought the CD ROM version
of Windows 95, I went to check the mail. Waiting in the mailbox was
a cardboard tube from Microsoft. I opened it with curiosity, since it
didnt look like regular marketing material. I cut the tape and
pulled off the top. Inside was a gray T-shirt, extra large, my size.
The design was of a draftsman style, with a graphic feeling to it, thin
lines drawn with precision, like a blueprint for a manufacturer. It
was a drawing of an anvil, falling from the sky. You could tell that
there was forceful speed built up, and underneath the shadow of the
anvil was a cockroach crawling, unaware except for the shadow that he
was about to be smashed. Somewhere in that design it read: Microsoft
Windows 95. I still wear the shirt. But now my fears are gone.
I dont know about you, but I think there is something comforting
about a big brother that sends you a T-shirt. True enough I played his
game. I gave him, Mr. Gates, my hard-earned money. I did my part to
make him the richest man in the world. And my life is easier, especially
with this new Windows 2000.
Ronald Silver 2003
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